Voter turnout has come to the forefront of Sarasota city politics, not because of next Tuesday’s primary election, but because a group of engaged citizens frustrated with the city’s lack of elected officials’ leadership are convinced one of the cures is making it easier for voters to participate in the process.
Led by Sarasota restaurateur and one-time City Commission candidate Paul Caragiulo and former Sarasota Mayors Mary Anne Servian and Kerry Kirschner, this core group wants Sarasota city elections to be shifted from their normal March and April time slots to the November general elections.
Voter turnout is always higher in general elections than in the spring special elections. To wit: In the 2008 presidential election, the Sarasota County supervisor of elections reported 80% voter turnout in Sarasota County. Contrast that with the 27% turnout for the April city runoff elections.
Indeed, that 27% sounds better than it looks when you see the numerical results in that City Commission runoff election:
Terry Turner 3,170
Suzanne Atwell 2,890
Paul Caragiulo 2,786
Registered city voters 32,698
In other words, Atwell won her seat with 8.8% of the registered city voters. Turner won with 9.7%.
By those numbers, it doesn’t seem right that only 8,846 voters are determining the course of the city. And when you look at the turnout by precincts, of the city’s 27 precincts, only seven of them produced voter turnout above 20%.
Why so few?
Conventional wisdom says apathy. Perhaps so. But another way to look at it is the quality of the candidates. It could be that voters disagree so much with the philosophies of the candidates they can’t make themselves vote for any of them.
Either answer is not good.
There is another negative factor to weigh. Consistently low turnout can empower a small group. It’s no surprise, for instance, the two people who expressed opposition to changing the city’s election date before the Sarasota Charter Review Committee last week were Susan Chapman and Kate Lowman, advocates for the Coalition of City Neighborhood Associations. They know what increased voter turnout would do to their influence at City Hall.
They also made the argument that keeping city elections separate from the general election helps keep City Commission candidates and issues from being lost in the electioneering hoopla that accompanies the general election. This is the proverbial red herring.
Let’s have a full debate. We’re on Caragiulo, Servian and Kirschner’s side. Switch the city elections to coincide with the general election season. This is when American voters are traditionally ginned up to be involved and vote. We urge the Charter Review Committee to agree next week to give city voters the opportunity to decide this issue at the polls.
PRIMARY ELECTION RECOMMENDATIONS
Here are the The Sarasota Observer’s recommendations for the primary elections. If a race is not listed, no one is recommended.
Republican — Marco Rubio
Republican — Buchanan
Democrat — Alex Sink
Republican — Rick Scott
Republican — Pam Bondi
HOUSE DISTRICT 67
Republican — Jeremiah Guccione
District 4 Republican — Mark Smith
District 1 — Carol Todd
District 5 — Kathy James
Group 3 — Maryann Boehm
CHARTER REVIEW BOARD
District 2 Republican — Steven R. Fields
District 3 Republican — Adam Miller
Seat 1 — Darryl Henry
Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemption — No
Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson has held public office as a city and county commissioner for 19 years. The Sarasota Observer incorrectly reported her term of service last week.